From the Annals of the Eighth Wonder – In 1999, the Houston Astros played their last game in the Astrodome. Predictably it was the last game of a divisional series loss to the Atlanta Braves. After winning the first game in Atlanta, the Astros lost 3 straight to Braves. The Braves held a 7-0 lead after a 5 run 6th inning. The Astros rallied to score 5 runs sparked by a 3 run homer by Tony Eusebio in the 8th inning. The Astros had a chance to tie in the bottom of the 9th. As Jeff Bagwell came to the plate, Red’s buddy the Big Dog remarked, “This is kind of a career-defining moment for Bagwell.” Bagwell failed to deliver. The Astros still had a chance with Ken Caminiti at the plate. Caminiti, who had carried the Astros in the series with 8 RBI’s and a .471 average, hit a long ball to the warning track in left field and the Astros run in the Eighth Wonder of the World was over. The blame largely fell on future Hall of Famers, Bagwell and Craig Biggio who combined for a total of 4 hits while batteing .154 and .105 respectively in the series.
The Baseball Writer’s Association has selected Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines for the Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2017.
Pudge Rodriguez leads the class as a first ballot HOFer even though he barely got in with 76% of the vote. PR deserves the honor. For about a decade, Red’s view was that if he was building a team, Pudge would be the first player taken. He is the greatest catcher ever by any metric. In his 21 seasons, PR hit 311 home runs, drove in 1332 runs, scored 1354 runs, had 2844 hits and sported a .296 batting average. Throw in 14 appearances in the All Star game, 13 Golden Gloves, the 1999 MVP award and the fact that he played the most difficult and demanding position in all of sport and you have to wonder – who didn’t vote for this guy?
Tim Raines, who has long been touted by the sabermetrics crowd received 86% of the vote in his 10th and final year of eligibility. Raines’ stat line is not as impressive as PR’s, but Red will defer to the experts on TR. He never hit 20 home runs in a season and only once topped 70 RBI’s. His 808 stolen bases are impressive, but Red thinks that Raines owes his new HOF status to a vigorous internet campaign.
Red will not make any friends here, but he really doesn’t think Jeff Bagwell is among the 220 or so greatest baseball players of all time. Okay he has a better stat line than either PR or TR, but his greatest years were almost certainly tainted. Never thought of as a great fielder, he played a relatively easy position and never earned a Golden Glove or Silver Slugger award. He does have 4 All Star appearances and the MVP award from the strike shortened 1994 season in his favor. But having watched a lot of JB over the years, Red has a hard time seeing him in Cooperstown – but there he will be.
From the Annals of Labor Relations – In 1994, Major League Baseball players went on strike beginning the longest work stoppage in major league history. The strike resulting in the cancellation of the World Series – the first time the baseball season did not end with a champion in 89 years.
Major League owners had the most enduring control over their players of any American sports league. Until 1975, the reserve clause had effectively killed any notion of free agency in baseball and kept player salaries artificially low. By 1994, the main source of conflict was the owners’ plan to institute a cap on player salaries. Making unproven claims of financial hardship, owners argued that player salaries had become unsustainable. The players, led by union head Donald Fehr, refused to agree to a cap.
The level of distrust had been exacerbated by the 1985 secret agreement of the owners to not sign one another’s players. The pact was remarkably successful in practice as all 28 major league teams sat tight for three seasons. When the illegal conspiracy was discovered, the players’ union sued and won a $280 million judgment. Consequently, when the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the Players Association expired in 1994 negotiations for a new deal were difficult. On August 12, the petulant and peeved owners locked the players out, and cancelled the rest of the 1994 season.
No progress during the off-season and on the eve of the new baseball season, 28 of 30 owners voted to field replacement teams. On March 31, Judge Sonia Sontomayor stepped in, issuing an injunction against the owners. On April 2, 1995, the players returned to work.
Astros fans have long claimed that the strike robbed Jeff Bagwell of a landmark season. Bagwell was hitting .368 with 39 home runs through the date of the strike. But he had broken his hand on August 10 when he was hit by an Andy Benes pitch in the top of the third inning. The real losers were the Montreal Expos who were 74-40 and cruising through the NL East at the time of the strike. The franchise never recovered.